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Trace Amine-associated Receptors Are Olfactory Receptors in Vertebrates


Address for correspondence: Stephen D. Liberles, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, 200 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115. Voice: 617-432-7283; fax: 617-432-7285.


The mammalian nose is a powerful chemosensor, capable of detecting and distinguishing a myriad of chemicals. Sensory neurons in the olfactory epithelium contain two types of chemosensory G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs): odorant receptors (ORs), which are encoded by the largest gene family in mammals, and trace amine-associated receptors (TAARs), a smaller family of receptors distantly related to biogenic amine receptors. Do TAARs play a specialized role in olfaction distinct from that of ORs? Genes encoding TAARs are found in diverse vertebrates, from fish to mice to humans. Like OR genes, each Taar gene defines a unique population of canonical sensory neurons dispersed in a single zone of the olfactory epithelium. Ligands for mouse TAARs include a number of volatile amines, several of which are natural constituents of mouse urine, a rich source of rodent social cues. One chemical, 2-phenylethylamine, is reported to be enriched in the urine of stressed animals, and two others, trimethylamine and isoamylamine, are enriched in male versus female urine. Furthermore, isoamylamine has been proposed to be a pheromone that induces puberty acceleration in young female mice. These data raise the possibility that some TAARs are pheromone receptors in the nose, a hypothesis consistent with recent data suggesting that the olfactory epithelium contains dedicated pheromone receptors, separate from pheromone receptors in the vomeronasal organ. Future experiments will clarify the roles of TAARs in olfaction.